Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography


with 14 comments

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Bluebonnets have been heavily promoted and even mythologized in Texas, but all that acclaim, however warranted—up to a point—has had the unintended consequence of taking attention away from many other wildflowers that should be better known. Some of those can also form large colonies, two examples being the greenthreads and firewheels you saw earlier this week. Today’s post introduces another one, prairie verbena, Glandularia bipinnatifida. On the overcast afternoon of March 27th I found this huge colony, only a part of which appears in the photograph, on US 290 just east of US 281 in the Texas Hill Country south of Johnson City.

“Okay, we’ve got all that, including the wow factor, but what are we supposed to make of the bellicose title of today’s post?” I’m glad you asked. Unfortunately the vertical green plants mixed in among the verbenas are a type of European thistle. The native verbenas are doing a good job of checking them, but there’s a continuing war in which the various species that evolved here are fighting against invasive ones from elsewhere, usually Eurasia. The battle you see taking place has been going on for some time, and the relative strengths of the two adversaries are about the same as I remember seeing them some half-dozen years ago in this very field. Come on, verbena, do your thing and drive out the invader!

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman


Written by Steve Schwartzman

March 31, 2012 at 5:43 AM

14 Responses

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  1. That is just breathtakingly gorgeous, Steve. And your point is very important to make because that thistle looks so toweringly menacing–like a botanical War of The Worlds!


    March 31, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    • Thanks, Lance, for appreciating the verbena colony and characterizing the situation it’s in as a botanical War of the Worlds.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 31, 2012 at 6:36 AM

  2. My observations are that the Bastard Cabbage is the biggest threat to our Texas wildflowers right now.

    David Hopf

    March 31, 2012 at 8:32 AM

    • I can confirm that the bastard cabbage (also called wild mustard), Rapistrum rugosum, is the most widespread I’ve ever seen it in Austin. It’s along parts of all the main highways in this area. It has covered whole fields. When I recently visited a piece of land where I photographed lots of native wildflowers in 2010, I could hardly find any, because the wild mustard had filled almost the entire property. Eve and I just came back from almost 300 miles of observing nature and taking pictures as far south of Austin as Goliad and Kenedy, and I’m sorry to say we saw huge amounts of it on our whole trip, more in some places than others, but we were disheartened to see so much of it. There were many places where even the dense native wildflowers were overshadowed by it. Its proliferation was probably aided by last year’s drought, though why it should have rebounded way beyond most of the native species, I don’t know.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 31, 2012 at 7:22 PM

  3. While I applaud your fervor for the prairie verbena, the WAR metaphor is a real bummer. I come to nature to free myself for a little while from the “wars and rumors of war” too prevalent in our world at large. Your splendid photograph simply shows Ma Nature working out issues in Her own blessed and timely fashion. In this relatively new, anthropomorphic era of shifting climates species migration is happening now and will likely increase in the future. So let’s put to rest this rhetoric of “natives” vs. “invaders”. Peace out.


    March 31, 2012 at 9:19 AM

    • While the war metaphor is just that, a metaphor, I do see our native species under pressure from what are generally called invasives. Please see the response I just wrote to the previous comment. Perhaps what I saw today would sway your opinion, perhaps not.

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 31, 2012 at 7:27 PM

  4. Thanks for calling this to people’s attention. I am involved in several restoration projects here in California, and it’s sometimes really hard for people to understand why invasives (vinca, ivy, star thistle, arundo) are such a problem.


    March 31, 2012 at 9:57 AM

    • Although I didn’t mention it, I also observed some dense Malta star thistles along the edge of the field bordering the highway; the ones in the field were a larger species of non-native thistle. Good luck with your restoration projects. I jusy hope you don’t have to deal with Rapistrum rugosum (please see the response I’ve just posted to David Hopf’s comment above).

      Steve Schwartzman

      March 31, 2012 at 7:32 PM

  5. What a gorgeous sea of color!


    April 1, 2012 at 12:29 AM

  6. This is beautiful…even with the invasive species!!


    April 2, 2012 at 2:39 PM

  7. […] recently saw a large and dense colony of flowering prairie verbenas. The French word for verbena is verveine, which English has borrowed as vervain; I mention that […]

  8. […] 1713. It just so happens that the German word Krieg means ‘war,’ which was the title of a recent post in which I invoked that metaphor to describe the conflict between native species and alien […]

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